Dementia & Dignity: An All-Star Caregiver accompanies a family on their journey with Alzheimer's

Dementia care has become one of the most widely discussed and important topics in senior care. It is clear that individuals don’t get dementia, families do. The rippling effects of the disease within families cause us to look at how we can help support dignity and life in both those suffering with dementia and their loved ones. In May, the Health Care Providers Council of Pierce County hosted its annual All-Star Caregiver dinner in which 89 local caregivers were nominated. Among the nominees were 9 caregivers from Sound Options. It was no surprise that our caregiver Kim McCartan was a winner and named an All-Star Caregiver.

As part of the nomination process, clients were able to write a letter recommending caregivers and sharing their story. As a result we received one of the most touching snapshots into the caregiver relationship and how one woman is beautifully accompanying and caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s. With her permission, we have shared her words here as a testament to the importance of finding support and pursuing dignity in dementia care.

“My husband, Brendan, who is 87 years old, Irish to the core, and diagnosed 12 years ago, has mid to later stage Alzheimer’s disease. Kim has been our caregiver for more than 2 years and has brought so much joy and genuine caregiving to both Brendan and me, significantly impacting the quality of our lives. We don’t have any family locally and subsequently, are dependent on our caregivers and close friends for support and respite. When she arrives, her warm greeting, smile and happy disposition always brings a broad smile and often laughter from Brendan and this response is a special gift to me. Brendan has both receptive and expressive aphasia, resulting in the loss of much of his language and ability to voice needs and concerns. Since Kim has been here, his ability to verbalize appropriate and complete sentences has greatly improved. She is able to bring out the best of Brendan’s personality, which is a gift to both of us because he is such a gentle and loving man.

Kim always is cheerful, directly addressing Brendan and including him in conversation and not as an “outsider”. She is gently and non-rushed in her approach, always explaining things as she goes along and giving him time to “process” things, respecting his privacy, yet providing necessary care. Her approach is never condescending, but preserves Brendan’s dignity and willing participation in his care. She praises him frequently, and this increases his self-confidence and preserves independent activities.

Last November, Brendan required extensive dental work necessitating several doctor’s visits, hospitalization, and general anesthesia. Kim accompanied us all along the way, assisting with transfers in and out of the car (an anxiety provoking task) as well as exposure to entirely new and unfamiliar persons and environments. She was instrumental in keeping Brendan calm and oriented. I was truly astounded that she was able to keep Brendan’s attention diverted while they started an IV. 2 years previously in another setting, it took 3 of us to “hold him down” (not the best approach, as I now have learned) just to obtain a finger stick for some necessary blood work. Brendan “sailed” through this entire hospital procedure with minimal anxiety or frustration. She calmed me we well, since I was very anxious, especially with the “horror stories” of the effects of general anesthesia on people with Alzheimer’s disease!

Kim is extremely observant…a detective of sorts. With Brendan’s language loss, she readily identifies Brendan’s other non-verbal clues to convey his needs and reports changes and or behaviors. She’s constantly exploring new activities to help Brendan stay engaged, stimulated and physically active. She’s cognizant of keeping him safe in all respects and is very patient with his shortfalls or confusion. She has taken a very active interest in Irish music and other culturally significant activities which have always been an important part of Brendan’s past and incorporates these into daily routine. She’s diligent about pacing his activities with rest periods throughout the day.

Kim has cared for Brendan overnight on 2 separate occasions while I traveled out of state for family gatherings. In each instance, I came home to a very happy husband, laundry done and a clean house. From my point of view, the most important aspect of our caregiver’s responsibilities is to be with Brendan, keeping him engaged, clean, and safe. All the rest of this was truly “frosting on the cake!”

Kim is constantly updating her education, seeking out new resources and applies newly learned techniques immediately. She is always open to suggestions and or new resources which I have discovered and we’ve had some great discussions regarding how best to meet Brendan’s care needs to “create moments of joy” for him throughout the day. She has been a real care partner, not just a caregiver.

Kim has been a godsend to us and is most deserving of the Outstanding Caregiver All-Star Award. She has been a great gift to both Brendan and myself and has been instrumental in my ability to keep Brendan in our home surrounded by a comforting and familiar environment.

In summary, because of Kim’s outstanding care, I have been able to accomplish dental procedures, necessary to Brendan’s well-being; leave him in her care with confidence while I traveled overnight to participate in family events, all the while keeping Brendan a “happy camper” in our familiar home environment; and providing respite time for me to actively participate in a local garden club as well as to volunteer for a local non-profit agency. In my estimation, this is the definition of an All-Star Caregiver!” 

Published on June 12, 2015.